HL Deb 06 July 1885 vol 298 cc1647-51

Order of the Day read for taking into consideration Standing Order No. 93. in order to its being dispensed with in re- spect of a petition or petitions of the Metropolitan Water Companies praying to be heard by counsel against the Bill.


in moving that the said Standing Order be now considered, said, the Bill was really a Private Bill, and ought, therefore, to go before a Select Committee, in order that the Water Companies might be heard against it. If it were arranged that the Bill was to be referred to a Committee he should not trouble their Lordships. As the Bill was introduced in the other House, it affected all the Water Companies in the country; but in its present form it only applied to the Metropolis. Petitions could not be presented in time against the Bill, owing to the delay in ascertaining its real character. The Bill affected £30,000,000 of property, and contained proposals of a most unjustifiable character. It would, in fact, take away one-fifth or one-sixth of the income of the Metropolitan Water Companies. Their Lordships must, therefore, see that these Companies ought to be heard against it.

Moved, "That the said Standing Order be now considered."—(The Lord Bram-well.)


said, he could not agree to the noble and learned Lord's proposals. The Bill was essentially a Public Bill, and was decided so to be by an overwhelming majority—146 to 81—in the other House. He hoped, in the interests of 4,000,000 of ratepayers, that the Bill would be read a second time. If, after reading the Bill a second time, it should be the pleasure of the House to refer it to a Select Committee for consideration, but not for taking evidence, there would be no objection to that course.


said, that no doubt in the other House it was a Public Bill, as it then applied to the whole Kingdom; but it was certainly not so in its present form.


said, he could not agree with the view of the noble and learned Lord that the Bill would inflict gross injustice. It was because he believed it would have the contrary effect that he, on the part of the Government, would support the second reading. He regarded the Bill as one of the fairest that could be framed. The Water Companies had been in the habit of assessing property in a fashion of their own. The Bill provided a fair and equitable method of assessment, such as was provided by the quinquennial assessment under the Metropolitan Valuation Act. If the mode of assessing property to the poor and other rates in the Metropolis was just, there could be no hardship in requiring the Water Companies to base their charges upon that assessment, as the Bill proposed.


said, he agreed with all the noble Duke had said. The Bill was undoubtedly as much a Public Bill as any measure in the world could be. Upon that ground, as well as upon, the merits, he should support the second reading.


said, he also should support the second reading of the Bill; and urged the appointment of a Select Committee before which the Water Companies might be heard, by themselves or their agents, but not by counsel or witnesses.


observed that the late Lord Chancellor had said there was not the slightest doubt that this was essentially a Public Bill. There were, however, other authorities in that House who held an opinion different from that of his noble and learned Friend, and those authorities were the Examiners of Bills. They held that by the change made in the House of Commons, which restricted the operation of the measure to the Metropolis, it became ipso facto a Private Bill, and ought to be treated accordingly. No doubt, the ratepayers of the Metropolis would be very glad to have cheap water; but there was a consideration even more important than the question of cheap water for the 4,000,000 of the inhabitants of the Metropolis. That consideration was whether they would be doing justice to the Companies in the matter of their property. All that the Companies had done was to exercise their legal rights, which their Lordships were now asked to take from them. He could not but think that the course suggested by his noble and learned Friend (Lord Bramwell) was the right course—that the Bill should become a Private Bill, and that the Water Companies should be allowed to appear by counsel before the Committee.


said, he must deny that the measure deprived the Companies of any of their legal rights. It would simply make law that which was virtually law already by the decision of their Lordships' House in the Dobbs case.


said, he was not prepared to accede to the appointment of a special Committee in this particular case. If their Lordships generally were of opinion that the Bill should pass the second reading, he should offer no opposition to that course. In his opinion, the Bill ought to be allowed to be proceeded with in the usual way.


said, there could be no doubt that this Bill was introduced in the House of Commons as a Public and not a Private Bill, its object being simply to alter in one particular the provisions of a Public Act which applied to the whole Kingdom. Under the Act of 1847, the water rate was to be levied upon the valuation; but, by a singular omission, no authority was created to determine what the valuation was to be. Accordingly, the Water Companies themselves became the valuators, and levied the rate upon the rate-able value as they chose to fix it. It was provided that in case of dispute the matter might be referred to a magistrate; but what chance had an individual against one of those wealthy Companies? If their Lordships read the records of the decisions of the magistrates, they would find that, as there was no principle to guide the Justices, their rulings were eccentric in the highest degree.


interposing, said, he did not know that. At all events, it was a subject which ought to be investigated by a Committee.


resuming, said, that the decisions of the magistrates, acting without any guide given to them by the Act of Parliament, were irregular, often unjust, and eccentric. The present Bill was intended to operate for the public protection, and he was at a loss to understand on what ground it could be treated as a Private Bill. Mr. Frederick Clifford, in his useful work, page 269, said— The rule that Bills affecting a particular locality are private Bills is departed from in the case of measures relating to the whole Metropolis (i.e., the Metropolitan district). These are frequently dealt with as Public Bills, the large area, the number of parishes, the vast population, and the variety of interests concerned constituting them measures of public policy rather than of local interest. MR. Clifford went on in his work to show that on some occasions Bills affecting the Metropolitan district had been dealt with as Hybrid Bills; but never where the object was to declare the effect of a public statute. When the Bill now before the House was in Committee in the House of Commons, Mr. Coope, representing the Water Companies, brought forward a Motion precisely similar to that of the noble and learned Lord's; but it was rejected by an overwhelming majority, because the Bill was a Public and not a Private Bill.

On Question? Resolved in the negative.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, the object of the Bill was to require the Metropolitan Water Companies to rate the occupiers of premises on their rate-able instead of upon their annual value, subject to the quinquennial revision provided for by the Act passed in 1869. He asked their Lordships to read the Bill a second time on the clear understanding that it would be referred to a Select Committee of their Lordships upstairs—not to a Private nor to a Hybrid Committee, but to a Public Committee.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Viscount Enfield.)


said, he must oppose the second reading of the Bill. He was not a shareholder in any Water Company, and he had no personal interest whatever in the matter; but he protested against the Water Companies being compelled to be bound by the rate-able value, which in a large number of cases was notoriously far below the real net annual value of the property. [Cries of "No!"] He said peremptorily "Yes."

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly; and referred to a Select Committee.